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Critics are split on the 2021 Toyota Highlander. But most experts agree on one thing; one of the three-row SUV’s trim levels stands tall above the rest.

So, before checking out any three-row SUV alternatives, check out what the ultimate Highlander model has to offer.

Here’s the sweet spot in the 2021 Toyota Highlander lineup

A silver 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE parked on display
The 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE on display | Toyota

You don’t have to spend a fortune to experience ultimate comfort. However, you will want to upgrade from the base model.

The entry-level Highlander L has a starting MSRP of $34,910, and it has a decent assortment of features. Highlights include tri-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, an eight-inch touchscreen, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. 

Plus, every Highlander is quite safe, as it comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+. This package includes automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, and more.

But we suggest spending about $5,000 more on the 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE. You’ll gain desirable amenities such as a power liftgate, wireless charging, a moonroof, and blind-spot monitoring.

This model is also much plusher than the lower-priced L or LE, which makes all the difference during your morning commute. It comes with synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.

Additionally, the XLE trades out a traditional three-passenger second-row bench for two captain’s chairs. Those who can make do with seven-passenger seating instead of eight will significantly benefit from the added space.

Notably, you won’t experience a difference in performance with the 2021 Toyota Highlander XLE’s performance. Like the base model, it features a 295-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a front-wheel-drive system. All-wheel drive is available on all models for those who desire extra traction.

How much do higher trims cost?

The more premium versions of the 2021 Toyota Highlander are undoubtedly well-equipped. 

You’ll get a sport-tuned suspension and a navigation system on the XSE, leather upholstery and ventilated front seats on the Limited, and a 12.3-inch touchscreen and a head-up display on the Platinum.

However, all of these models cross the $40,000 mark and can come close to the $50,000 mark with added options. You might be better off spending your money on a luxury vehicle if you’re willing to buy a model at this price point.

For example, the 2021 Lexus RX 350L and the 2022 Acura MDX are three-row SUVs priced under $50,000.

Is the 2021 Toyota Highlander worth buying?

Toyota’s three-row midsize SUV ranks either at the top of the class or in the middle of it, depending on who you ask.

For example, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the Highlander as the 12th-best model in the segment. The publication praised its feature list and powerful engine, but it took issue with the SUV’s tiny third row and stiff handling.

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports named the 2021 Toyota Highlander one of its “recommended” vehicles. However, this advocacy comes with a caveat. The publication said the cheapest model that shoppers should consider is the XLE.

Additionally, both outlets found the energetic Highlander Hybrid to be a better ride. However, it starts at $38,510, and the Highlander Hybrid XLE will cost you $41,310.


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